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Bipolar: Diagnosis and Recovery

Bipolar: Diagnosis and Recovery

You’ve just been told your diagnosis – bipolar. For some it’s a great relief knowing there is an explanation, a name, for this thing that has you in turmoil for months or possibly years.

You might have realised you were having bouts of depression, but few can recognise the opposite, the highs, particularly if they are pleasant highs or elations as you just feel “great”, ‘fantastic” and have that “never felt better” feeling.

The other type of high, the unpleasant or dysphoric highs or mixed mood state are equally difficult to diagnose, a bewildering changing mixture of agitation, anxiety, irritability, depression and a legion of other vague feelings. For want of a better word, the person can only describe this cluster of symptoms as depression or anxiety when they first attend their doctor. 

For others hearing the diagnosis of bipolar for the first time it is most unwelcome, even a shock. Like all emotional trauma, as shock fades, disbelief or denial of the diagnosis and anger can follow.

The most difficult fact about bipolar is that it tends to be a recurring condition. Early diagnosis and treatment improve the outcome and allow people with bipolar achieve their potential and live a life that they value. The good news is that for most people the recurrences can be prevented. But it cannot be prevented without the person who has the condition playing the pivotal role in implementing the recovery plan.

Here are a few practical steps to consider for your plan:

  • Getting your current mood phase sorted should be your number one priority.
  • The research findings show that medication is the most successful way to achieve this.
  • Once your mood settles, you can begin to benefit from a bipolar educational programme which teaches how to prevent relapses.
  • Counselling or talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, and mindfulness have a lot to contribute to staying well.
  • If your mood is still not back to its normal level, it is best to put off making any significant changes in your life, as you will probably see your situation differently within days to weeks.
  • Most people will know or have an inkling when they are depressed or in an unpleasant high or mixed mood state. It is practically impossible for someone to distinguish between being elated, particularly if it is mild, and a normal mood, as both feel “normal’ to them. Even if a person realises they are elated, they tend to underestimate its intensity. It is these unrecognised and underestimated elations that result in the financial, relationship, educational, occupational and social problems in bipolar, in addition to being the forerunner of the next depression. As family members can readily see the highs, ask one of them to tell you when it starts, so that you can report it to your doctor immediately. Having such a ‘spotter’ is vital to reducing the time to achieving full mood stability and limiting the problems listed above.
  • It is helpful to talk to others who have experienced bipolar. They will understand how you are and you will not feel that you are burdening them, as you might with a family member. Aware’s Support & Self Care Groups for bipolar offer an opportunity to receive the understanding, support and encouragement of others who have had similar highs and lows.
  • Bipolar impacts relationships; encourage your family to consider getting support.

As you become better informed about bipolar and learn to face and embrace the challenges it poses, you will become stronger and wiser as you begin to achieve peace of mind.

This blog is by Dr Pat McKeon, founder of Aware, as part of a blog series for World Bipolar Day.

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Aware offers a range of free evidence informed education programmes to include the Relatives & Friends Programme which is designed specifically for those supporting a loved one and focuses on the self care of the supporter. The Living Well With Bipolar Disorder Programme is an information and support programme, designed for people with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.


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